At least to regular Indy readers, the Blue Star needs no introduction. It's been voted the Best Overall Restaurant in our Best Of issue for the past three years, also earning a long string of awards for its wine list and several nods for Best Fine Dining dating to its late 1990s move from the original Old Colorado City location.
As evidenced by the planned expansion of its pastry and baking operations into the former Ivywild School across Tejon Street (along with Bristol Brewing Co.), the Blue Star doesn't rest on its accolades. Just as owner Joe Coleman has gone on to establish successful concepts with Nosh and La'au's Taco Shop, he's set up the Blue Star to succeed through perpetual reinvention, for nearly 13 years at the hands of chef James Davis (now at Springs Orleans).
With Davis' departure in late 2009, chef de cuisine Andrew Sherrill took transitional charge until chef Daniel Gerson was hired this past January. Gerson's new influence on this lauded eatery prompted us to critique it now, having last formally reviewed it in 2000 and 2005.
Unfortunately, a new menu launches the same day this review hits print, rendering the following descriptions only a taste of the new stylings. Unknown to us when we timed our visits: Gerson and crew change 80 percent of the menu — everything but six "rooted entrees," one starter and two salads — every four to five weeks.
"It's aggressive," he says, "but it keeps everyone on their toes and sharp. We try to push ourselves to see how far we can go."
Gerson — Lyon, France-born, 37 and trilingual — has pushed his own culinary abilities over the past 18 years across France, England, Israel and the southwestern United States. (For more on him, see "Toque Talk," our Feb. 24 entrance interview on the Indy blog.) He says Coleman has given him a free hand to carry on the Blue Star's momentum, and calls Sherrill his "co-pilot" with whom he creatively collaborates.
Their hyper-eclectic menu could perhaps best be described as contemporary bistro food, with plates showing influence from Mediterranean, Asian, classic European and modern gourmet American cuisines. Some items worked, even dazzled, and some stumbled, even failed.
For example, a gorgeously simple creamy pimento cheddar cheese starter ($7) surprised us with awesomely airy herb crackers and piquant pickled vegetables, but the best I can say about my $13 quesadilla is that the vinaigrette on the accompanying spring mix was delightful. In between four small double-stacked corn tortilla triangles, little pecorino sheep's cheese, green chili or spinach could be found, adding up to an expensively dismal Tex-Mex blunder.
And some items were just good, but not quite as sexy and full-flavored as desired, like a duck egg wrapped in bacon and polenta ($7), which we couldn't much distinguish from a regular egg, and a babaganoush-like orange-eggplant caviar and tahini yogurt-stuffed artichoke crown (a little small for $8) that just wasn't as bright as its description.
We'll bypass dish descriptions of other items no longer available — though Gerson says some may return in slightly altered form next spring — but it's worth examining a handful that show promise.
Tweaking a traditional English Coronation Chicken Salad, Gerson mixed apples and raisins with curried chicken hunks in a sour cream-enriched vinaigrette, with a sugary mango coulis moat surrounding the greens. At a fair $9, it was light and lovely, as was a starkly simple frisee salad in a honey-Dijon dressing ($6) paired with apple discs and radishes. A brie and chicken sandwich with cranberry compote on buttery grilled sourdough ($13) again showed the beautiful simplicity of a few strong but fairly light ingredients.
By contrast, the primitively satisfying, fatty corned pork belly plated over rye croutons ($7) — a deconstructed Reuben of sorts, playing on corned beef — took five days to prepare, brined for three days and cold-smoked before being cooked in veggie stock and served with a nice, tangy white Russian dressing (the classic minus the ketchup).
Perfectly tender ghost chili and Laughing Lab-braised bison short ribs ($29) received extra earthy smokiness from a chipotle tomato sauce, while a fish sauce-glazed, cornmeal-battered Vietnamese trout next to a Thai-like papaya slaw ($25) hit a challenging but not unpleasant salty crescendo.
Hit and miss
Though the Blue Star achieves the coolest, most hip-Denver-like scene locally, particularly on its noisy, vibrant bar side, it has never in my experiences over the years scored all As throughout a multicourse meal.
I've discussed at length the peaks and valleys of our local dining scene with Coleman, who cares passionately about his and our city's food. But I've found his flagship eatery all too human, at times dishing lukewarm plates and less than excellent items. And on one of these most recent visits, service fell apart during a rush. The team says it experienced an unusual doubling of regular volume that day, but took responsibility, vowing to add another person and acknowledging that no one should ever be ignored for 15 minutes after receiving a dessert menu.
All this goes to show that even the Best Overall Restaurant can do better, especially when its priciest entrées top the nearby Summit at the Broadmoor's excellently executed plates.
The Blue Star is good — great at times — but Gerson and Sherrill need to gift it not only with creative experimentation and constant newness, but proper consistency for its price.
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